Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the twenty first day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. The ten internationally backed teams have begun to enjoy some extended downwind sailing.
Welcome to Yorkshire - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
'So the downwind sailing for leg six has finally commenced,' reveals Rupert Dean, skipper of Welcome to Yorkshire.
'It's a great chance to make good speed and generally dry things out above and below decks. Vigilance from the helms, however, will be required over the next few days considering we lost our windex in the gales earlier this leg and snapped one of our two spinnaker poles too,' continues Rupert.
'The windex, wind vane at the top of the mast gives instantaneous accurate indications of where the apparent wind is coming from, a highly useful reference when under sail, especially when running deep downwind. Until we get a new one or can fashion a repair, other senses will have to be used to keep our 'Pink Lady' sunny side up.'
Currently in sixth place, Welcome to Yorkshire, sits just two miles behind closest rivals Qingdao, and Rupert hopes the current conditions will allow his team to make good progress.
'We think the cold front passed over us last night. I say think because the effects of it were far less obvious than one would normally expect. Pressure dropped slightly then rose as heavier cloud cover overtook Welcome to Yorkshire, bringing increased wind and constant rain.
'With the wind once again slightly forward of the beam, was this to be a last hurrah for the amazing reaching conditions we've had over the past four days?'
Leg six sees the fleet race from Qingdao, China to Oakland, San Francisco Bay and will see the teams spend approximately 33 days at sea while constantly tested by the Pacific Ocean conditions.
'The fleet is incredibly close for such a long race and this shows how well matched these Clipper 68s are. But with over 1,600 miles to go there is still all to play for!' explains Derry-Londonderry skipper, Mark Light.
'A definite change in the weather today brings grey skies and constant rain. We have watched the barometer fall consistently since yesterday morning - a total of 12 bars. The wind has now begun its veer from south to west and it is forecast to continue on round to the north west through today.
'After being on the same tack with the same sail plan for the last three days we are now thinking about a more appropriate set up for the new downwind conditions. I could tell you what that new set up is, but the crew on New York might well be listening and they are closer than I would like already, sorry guys, no offence!'
Locked in a battle for third place with the American entry, Derry-Londonderry will be hoping to fight off any attempts to steal their podium position from the chasing teams behind them.
'We are still making cracking progress and there is regular competition for highest speed achieved generally during a surf. With the downwind sailing comes a flat boat making life easier down below decks but even more nerves as to who will benefit first from the change in conditions. We will keep a close weather eye open looking for the perfect time to gybe over onto port and start shaping a course for the west coast of the United States.'
Ahead of the Northern Ireland entry in second place is Singapore, skippered by Ben Bowley.
'We have been sailing very well aboard the big red bus, keeping her pointed generally in the right direction with plenty of sail to drive her.
'Despite this, our deficits and leads have both been moving in the wrong direction. This is frustrating and we are trying to rectify the situation whilst setting ourselves up well for the changeable conditions that are accompanying the transition of this long awaited front,' reports Ben.
'Before the night is out we are sure to have completed several sail evolutions including a gybe. Anticipating the weather is no mean feat as even with GRIB forecasts; the timings and strength of changes are, as their name would suggest, merely a prediction. We are due for a busy night if we are to keep moving the right way with just the right balance between ease of handling and speed. The temptation to hoist the kite right at this moment is great but with a lack of moon, overcast skies and no kite work for the last two weeks, prudence is keeping Vicky in bed for tonight at least.'
Continuing their charge toward the Ocean Sprint and Oakland is Gold Coast Australia, whose skipper and crew hope leg six will deliver their seventh victory of the Clipper 11-12 Race.
'This afternoon saw a cold change in the weather and some drizzle, as the wind started to veer to the east and increase up to 40 knots making for some exciting sled riding down waves,' says skipper, Richard Hewson.
'An interesting part of sailing in the North Pacific is the amount of flotsam and jetsam to be found drifting past. Very early this morning as we surfed down the waves in the dark Gold Coast Australia collided with an unknown object making a large banging sound down below.
'The hull was checked for damage and there is none noticeable, however to be sure we monitored bilge levels every hour until midday to be certain. It will be interesting to inspect the hull on arrival in Oakland and see if the unknown object caused any damage,' continues Richard.
'Black footed albatross, sei whales and various species of dolphin have demonstrated the beauty and life of our windswept environment.
'The sei whales in particular have been paying us many visits and one surfaced only 20 metres from the boat this morning giving us a fantastic show of its massive sleek body. Numerous other whales have also been demonstrating their beauty, however no more have come this close.'
Meanwhile on board Qingdao, it’s been a busy day of sail evolutions.
'Last night saw us down to Yankee 3, staysail and three reefs again as the wind picked up to over 30 knots for most of the night,' reports skipper, Ian Conchie.
'Then over the course of the morning the wind began to drop and veer, allowing us to free off the wind more and more and increase our sail plan until after lunch we were sailing downwind with the full main and Yankee 2.
'We were then able for only the second time in this leg hoist a spinnaker! The question now is if the sea state will quieten down enough to allow us to fly the kite all night. Currently we have seen no moon for four nights and precious few stars so it is very hard to helm without getting disorientated. We have everything prepared in case we need to drop but will keep the kite up as long as we can.'
The current conditions have allowed the crews to check equipment, carry out any required repairs and also check previous repairs.
'Being out in the middle of the ocean there is no spares department or shops if we break anything and we do not carry a spare of everything.
'Currently we have a winch held together with bolts salvaged from our heads spares (toilet for the land lumbers), another heads that has been repaired with some old leather and a missing air scoop replaced by a cut up biscuit tin and silaflex (bathroom sealant). I am not sure what the equivalent of a Blue Peter badge is for the Clipper Race but I think we deserve one!'
Hoping for a podium finish is Gareth Glover, skipper of New York, will his team focussed on catching current occupiers of third place Derry-Londonderry in a bid to climb the overall leader board.
'Well the feeling in the wind was right; in the night the wind moved round giving us a beam reach and powered us along at speed. As the sun rose we were able to drop out a reef and change the head sail to our Yankee 2 and as the has wind come round more in the day we have gybed over on to port which keeps us on course to our waypoint.'
After breaking the 2,000 miles-to-go barrier yesterday, Gareth hopes to rally his troops for the final push to Oakland.
'Following days of nothing the crew are happy to be working again on deck and during the next 48 hours we will have to see what impact the new wind is going to do to the fleet, we hope it’s going to get us into the top three yachts and close down the gap between us and the leaders.
'As I write this the wind has dropped down to around 12 knots and we are running down wind with are Yankee 2 pole out and full main but looking at the forecast this will not be for too long as the low from the north makes it appreciate and we hope it will build to give us good angle and speed to the Ocean Sprint,' signs off Gareth.
Over on Geraldton Western Australia, it’s also been a busy day of sail changes.
'Just after sunrise this morning, we got the spinnaker pole up and poled out the Yankee 3. It became quite busy, as we ended up going for a full mainsail and changed to the Yankee 2 headsail,' explains skipper, Juan Coetzer.
'Just after lunch time we gybed back onto course and now making as decent VMG (Velocity Made Good) to Oakland. It’s great to be sailing downwind for a change. The boat being level makes it easier to move around and sleep.'
Making good progress over the last twelve hours is current holders of seventh place, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, skippered by Gordon Reid.
'Last night the conditions were lively as we hung on to our generous sail plan. With the swell coming from the beam the apparent wind was easily manageable but one wrong move on the helm and she rounded up sending the apparent shooting up along with the pressure exerted on both rig and sails,' says Gordon.
'Apart from the odd lively round up we managed to keep a fast and steady course making some good gains overnight, taking us once more back to fifth and still closing on the others.
'The wind has now veered and soon we will gybe and set the spinnaker for our downhill surf!' signs off Gordon.
20111224 Copyright Steve Holland/onEdition 2011© Free for editorial use image, please credit: onEdition De Lage Landen at the start of the race from the Gold Coast to Singapore in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. The teams taking part in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race are preparing to spend Christmas Day at sea as the are from the Gold Coast to Singapore gets underway from Queensland, Australia. It is the seventh of the 15 stages of the world's longest ocean race.
'Finally there has been a change in our weather,' reveals a relieved Stuart Jackson, skipper of De Lage Landen.
'After a wet day with the approaching front, the wind has now veered with the front passing over us and the sun has made an appearance. We also have significantly less wind but our boat speed remains pretty good.
'It's great to be able to open the hatches and give the boat a good airing as this has been the first time in around a week that we have been able to do so. It looks like we should enjoy the slightly lighter winds for at least a day before they start to fill in again from the chilly north west. Wildlife has been abundant today, with whales and dolphins cheering up our grey and rainy day.'
Now just four miles ahead of the Dutch entry is Visit Finland, skippered by Olly Osborne, whose team is also relishing the current conditions.
'It's great to be enjoying some downwind sailing at last, and we are enjoying a drier environment below already. Today we were able to get a few jobs done such as patching small holes in the sails and checking the rig aloft. Greg was surprised to find the masthead radio antenna had been bent double by a lightning strike we had during a squall a few days ago.
'But the forecast looks much more promising for the coming few days, and it should make for a fast run as a depression tracks above the fleet.'
The fleet is expected to arrive in Oakland, California between 1-7 April, where it will be hosted by the 2012 Strictly Sail Pacific Boat Show in Jack London Square. Oakland is located on the east side of San Francisco Bay.
positions at 0900 UTC, Sunday 25 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 1406nm
2 Singapore - 1497nm (+91nm**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 1604nm (+198nm)
4 New York - 1615nm (+209nm)
5 Qingdao - 1639nm (+233nm)
6 Welcome to Yorkshire - 1641nm (+234nm)
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 1647nm (+241nm)
8 Visit Finland - 1684nm (+278nm)
9 De Lage Landen - 1690nm (+284nm)
10 Geraldton Western Australia - 1765nm (+358nm)
*DTF = Distance to Finish, **DTL = Distance to Leader. Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found online.
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website